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[Video] Raising a New Generation of Bamboo Lovers

Bamboo is booming. All over the world, people are rediscovering the plant’s massive potential and technological innovation has enabled its use in pretty much any product you can think of. But how would a designer, engineer or architect know which specific type of bamboo to use for a project? There are over 1,000 species: some have higher tensile strength than steel, others are extremely flexible or have the perfect thickness for a straw.

Vietnamese scientist Diep Thi My Hanh makes a fundamental contribution to the global bamboo movement by studying the characteristics and the practical values of different species. Dr. Hanh grew up in Phu An, a village 40 kilometers north of Saigon.

When she returned after the war with a doctor’s degree in Environmental Science and Technology from France, not much was left of her hometown. The land was destroyed, the people were poor and farmers didn’t know how to sustainable use the available resources.

After long deliberation, Hanh then decided to make a radical career switch. She left her first love, coconut trees, and specialized in bamboo, a plant that she believed could drastically improve the livelihood of her community.

In 1999, she founded the Phu An Bamboo Village, and has since poured her whole heart into turning her hometown into the land of bamboo. Over the past two decades, Hanh has been an inspiration to many; she might be 63 years old now, but most people half that age can’t match her energy, charm and enthusiasm.

The Bamboo Village has become the region’s beating heart of bamboo research. It is part of the University of Natural Sciences of Ho Chi Minh City, and attracts many local and foreign students. But although she’s a scientist at heart, My Hanh never loses sight of the practicalities of the real world.

Together with her team, she develops training programs for the local community. When she won the UNDP Equator prize in 2010, the organization estimated that already 3,000 families in Phu An had economically benefited from her activities. But it’s not all about the money. To Hanh, educating children is at least as important as supporting their parents. Every Saturday morning, she invites local school classes to the village and teaches them to love nature in general and bamboo in particular.

More locals seem to have developed a renewed appreciation for bamboo. It’s evolving from an everyday material — once considered the poor man’s timber — to a symbol of progress. The iconic bamboo straw of the forward-looking Zero Waste Movement, and prominent local architect firms, most notably Vo Trong Nghia, using bamboo as their signature material, are just two examples.

Hanh welcomes the increasing recognition for bamboo, in Vietnam and worldwide, and hopes it will lead to more funding for her work. Recently, she set up community projects in the Mekong Delta and Central Vietnam, and has plans for many more. Clearly, Hanh doesn’t show any sign of slowing down, but if one day she has to, the next generation is well-prepared to continue her work.

Learn about Dr. Hanh's story and the work she's done at the Phu An Bamboo Village through the video below:

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